During more than three decades as a youth counselor and social worker, Mary Bright stood out for her empathy.
“She was a great teammate, friend, mentor and confidant,” Jordan High School Principal Jeff Vizenor wrote in a post on the school’s Facebook page. “Her compassion for others and willingness to serve was incredible.”
Bright died on Nov. 24 at her home in Shakopee from complications of lung cancer. She was 57.
Bright’s cancer was diagnosed in August 2017. Bright, who didn’t smoke, was told by her doctors that the cancer was caused by a gene mutation.
Bright was born to Muriel and Wayne Bright on Jan. 19, 1963, in Starbuck, Minn. She graduated from high school in Cyrus, Minn., in 1981.
After earning a degree in human services from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 1986, she started her youth counseling career at the Sheriff’s Youth Boys Ranch in Isanti, Minn.
In 1989, she became a case manager at Merriam Park Intensive Day Treatment in St. Paul. Two years later, she was promoted to director of the program, which was designed to treat behavioral problems and provide education for troubled juveniles. She held that position for 20 years.
“She was really good with those kids,” said her sister, Janelle Bright. “They trusted her. She got results and they showed improvement. But she wasn’t a pushover. When kids needed to be told something, she showed tough love.
“Then, when she switched from case manager to director, she heard the same thing from the staff. That she was trustworthy and let them lead. She was a good role model.”
In 1996, she earned a master’s degree from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.
After funding for the Merriam Park treatment program ran out, she became the principal of Vessey Leadership Academy, a charter high school in West St. Paul, in 2011. Vessey closed in December 2011, and Bright went to work for the Jordan school district in January 2012.
At Jordan, she was a social worker and also coached softball and volleyball. She coached the softball team for six seasons and the volleyball team for three.
The 2017 season was Bright’s last as volleyball coach. Her last season as the softball coach was in the spring of 2018.
“Mary always coached with passion and a purpose,” Jordan High School Activities Director Joe Perkl wrote on Facebook. “She was competitive and always wanted to win, but understood the layers of success for her players was bigger than the scoreboard.”
After her illness was diagnosed, she continued working until this school year.
“She would go to work after her chemo sessions,” said Janelle Bright.
Bright competed in three sports in high school and at Minnesota, Morris. In basketball, Bright was on the Cyrus varsity for six years. She finished with 1,713 career points and was eighth on the state girls career scoring list when she graduated. Bright had season tickets to Gophers women’s basketball and softball and the Minnesota Lynx. She also enjoyed travel and organizing trips with family and friends.
“She had a great sense of humor,” Janelle Bright said. “She was a good listener and made people laugh.”
In addition to her sister Janelle of Hewitt, Minn., Bright is survived by her mother, Muriel Bright of Morris; brothers Donald Bright of Coon Rapids and Richard Bright of Cyrus, and sister Bonnie Hyatt of Oakdale. Services have been held.